Friday, April 30, 1999
Poem in your pocket
There is a place I go almost weekly to write. It is a sloping park planted in a congested city neighborhood. Swings and sprawling trees lean out of its ribs; its belly holds a softball field and an often-quiet basketball court.
Recently it struck me that the park at rest is like a bowl, the kind of simple bowl a Tibetan monk would keep tucked inside his thick robes. He keeps it lined with a thin white cloth, twice folded, which he uses to gently wipe the inside each time he uses it. From this bowl small, smooth and unadorned he takes all nourishment he is offered. The park is like a bowl, empty and ready to receive.
April is National Poetry Month. I had forgotten, until recently as I was preparing to leave my weekly volunteer stint at the Carlisle Public School library, I saw a notice about the Poem in Your Pocket project. The school initiated this program a few years ago in honor of poetry month, to get young kids involved with and appreciating poetry. Kids are encouraged to write or select a published poem they like, copy it onto paper, and carry it around with them. They then randomly read the poem to adults in the school. Each reading, which is validated by the signature of the adult, garners them cumulative points.
As I left the building and walked out into the spring sun and a crowded playground, I was approached by a small boy asking me if I had a pen. I was about to explain that I did, but I wasn't sure I could give it to him, when he revealed his real purpose. Could he read his poem to me, he asked? I told him he could, and he read a two-line original poem about swinging upside down and seeing a bee. Intent on listening to his delivery, I failed to notice the other kids. Three or four were now standing behind this young poet, eager to share. They read or recited; I praised their efforts; I signed and, before I knew it, there was a flock of kids, all wanting to read their poems
I pleaded that I was already late for an appointment, which was true. What I really wanted to do was stay and listen to each poem, ask each child's name, and simply to enjoy the spontaneity of the moment.
They pressed, like newborn birds wanting to be fed. They begged and whined and chirped at me: "Mine is short...Please, I'll just read part of it...I'll read mine fast."
I reiterated my need to go while I kept listening to one more poem. More than once I drew an imaginary cutoff line behind a child holding a worn and over-folded poem. Finally, I asked the last two boys to walk with me towards the parking lot, just to save a little time.
I felt privileged to receive such eager, uncensored creativity, even as I knew I was just a nameless adult to them, a vehicle for earning another point in a race about words.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito